Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)

The Biofuels Center is investigating the viability of municipal solid waste (MSW) in North Carolina as a feedstock source for biofuels and has funded research into determining this.

According to DENR, North Carolinians generate about 9.9 million tons of MSW a year.  Estimates suggest roughly 60% of this is paper, plastic  and food waste that could be converted into biofuels via gasification technologies.  

In the unlikely scenario that all of the MSW generated in N.C. were to be directed towards biofuels production, 297 million gallons of biofuels would be produced at a conversion rate of 50 gallons of biofuels per ton of MSW.  While this scenario is unlikely, it provides grounds for closer investigation of MSW as a feedstock source to obtain a clearer idea of what is realistic.

The concept of converting MSW into liquid biofuels is relatively new.  As a result, the issues to make this viable need to be identified. The Center is working on addressing questions to validate the value chain of MSW to biofuels, including:

  • The MSW management and operational infrastructure statewide
  • An evaluation of MSW infrastructure relative to biofuels production platforms
  • True tonnages available and the contractual landscape in North Carolina, including the possible cost to a biofuels producer of tipping fees, etc.
  • Transport capabilities (number and type of trucks) at landfills
  • The number and type of facilities, such as recycling, landfills, or waste-to-energy
  • The composition of the current waste industry in N.C., in terms of how much waste is processed by municipalities and private/public corporations
  • The need for additional processing or pre-sorting prior to diverting the waste stream to a biofuels conversion facility
  • An estimate of total revenue generated from solid waste management in N.C.
  • Assessments of downstream values of waste and possible impacts and value increases from biofuels production, e.g. waste plastics being diverted for fuel and their impact on recycled plastics prices
  • Materials needed to educate the public and policymakers about the feasility of biofuel production using MSW
  • Waste composition deposited in landfills
  • Environmental considerations
  • Revenue generation models

From this it should be possible to begin formulating appropriate business development solutions for North Carolina biofuels production platforms capable of matching or co-locating at waste management sites.